Support My Writing

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What will become of us when they’ve gone? A family love story

                                                     Gisela and Pablo Rodriguez

No one likes to think about death, whether it is their own or someone close to them. No one likes to think about the death of their parents, or their grandparents. In our family, that is especially true. We have been blessed with an amazing set of parents/grandparents, and the idea of them not being with us is almost too much to bear.

I am very fortunate that I still have both of my parents and they are in relatively good health. They are both in their mid seventies and we are a very, very, close family.

I am the older of two daughters, born to two immigrants. I was born in Washington, D.C. in the early 1960s, and my sister was born in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1969. We were NEVER a “regular” family in that I don’t ever remember knowing a family like ours.

My parents are two of the most hilarious, (though often, not on purpose) interesting, cultured, diverse, and warm people you would ever hope to meet. Seriously, they truly are. And to be lucky enough to be one of their children or grandchildren is beyond imaging. They are, for all their many faults and maddening idiosyncrasies, fun, generous, thoughtful and all-around wonderful. That doesn’t mean they didn’t have a part in the neurotic messes that we all are, but as we used to say, “We may be dysfunctional, but at least we know it!”

My parents came to the United States, from Germany (mother) and Cuba (father) in the late 1950s. They are self-made people who worked incredibly hard, but never lost their sense of humor (now remember my mother is German) or their optimism.  Their sacrifices and dedication enabled us to have the rich and full lives we are blessed to live.
                                                              Me, my father, my sister

Of all the wonderful gifts they gave us, the gift of optimism is probably the most valuable. Giving up or quitting was not an option. When faced with challenges or situations which seemed overwhelming, I often would ask my mother how to cope. She would look at me and say, “You don’t have a choice; you just have to keep on going.” Seems simplistic, but I understood what she meant and I have taken that advice on many dark and difficult days.
My father is the original “one man Mardi Gras” and we have been blessed to have inherited his gift of humor and absurdity. We may be loud, and can argue fiercely at times, but we laugh harder and louder than most families I have met. We laugh at life, ourselves, and one another; but not in a mean or spiteful way.

My parents are so incredibly different that there is NEVER, EVER, a dull moment. The most mundane experience is riddled with humor, and we are blessed to be able to laugh through tears- even when things are very tough. Every family goes through difficult, often heartbreaking, times and moments. We have had more than our share. But, we have always managed to cling together and work though the pain and grief. We laugh, we cry, we talk, we hug… and start all over again.
That is why the thought of losing them is so hard. Who will fill those shoes? How will we laugh without them? They both have their “role” in the family show!
                                                      Me, my granddaughter, my mother

Oh, the family “show”, as we call it. Everyone has their role and it has the funniest dialogue you can imagine. My mother is the often stern, but incredibly kind and protective, one. She truly is the lioness to my father’s lion. She will fight for her family and do anything to help one of us. She is the one who has been the rock of the family and held us all together, even when we didn’t want to be. She was the patient and sensible one when we weren’t so patient or sensible. She believed in all of us, even when we didn’t earn that belief. And though she may have been madder than hell, she has loved us and never lets us forget how much. Her “lines” aren’t meant to be funny, but somehow we all laugh in spite of how serious she tries to be.
My father is like no one else in the whole world. He is funny, handsome, talented, jovial, and ALWAYS positive. Yeah, yeah… everyone says that about their own father. But if you ask people who know him, they will verify this claim. He is just an incredibly unique, charming, and all-around marvelous person. My poor mother has often “lived in his shadow”, but only because he is so much larger than life, and she is the epitome of class, correctness, dignity, and style. She has let my father shine and be more than she has been, because she didn’t feel the need to compete or prove her worth. She knows who she is, and she is fine just as she is. A lesser woman could not have managed it with such grace. I admire and respect her for that.

                                                    My mother, Gisela Ullmann Rodriguez

My mother is a woman of immense self-respect and has done more good for other people in her life than most ever do. She has been very happy to be a dutiful wife and mother, AND a hard-working and successful professional as well. She was the SUPER MOM before being the Super Mom was cool. Even with a full-time job, she had dinner on the table EVERY NIGHT of the week. I could never live up to her achievements in her dedication to her family, but in reality, I don’t think she wanted me to. Her own example and they way she has lived her own life encouraged my sister and me to become interesting and knowledgeable people. We were “strongly” encouraged to study and work hard, and become whole and complete women.

The diversity in my household has provided us with enough funny stories, hilarious vignettes, and riotous memories to fill many books. Anyone who has experienced a meal with our family can testify to the colorful and often confusing banter. Even after being together for more than 50 years, my parents still have a great deal of miscommunication, which provides the audience with more than enough laughs to split your gut. Some of it is gender-driven, some of it is language-related, and most of it is just that they are as different as night and day. As I said, there is never a dull moment!
                                                             My father, Pablo Rodriguez

My family has been very fortunate to have been able to enjoy our close ties and the great fun we have with one another. We are a very odd and funny bunch. We fight hard, but we love even harder. We have all the other problems and issues that other families have, but we are very lucky to have a crazy, interesting, and never boring cast of characters that keep life very interesting.
I treasure all the memories and I hope we are blessed with many years to come with my parents. They aren’t just parents and grandparents to us. They are beloved friends whose company we will dearly miss someday when they aren’t with us any longer.


  1. These two people are my greatest inspirations. I love them dearly. No one could possibly fill their shoes but their legacy will live on in the stories and lines of "previous episodes". AWESOME article!

  2. What a wonderful tribute to them, Diana!

  3. Love it. I agree. They are wonderful. Happy to be part of the family.

  4. It's no wonder you are such an extraordinarily wise, super-smart generous, kind, compassionate woman, raised by two extraordinary people as you've described your parents to be. I love your blog entries Diana.. they nourish my soul.